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MLS Best XI unveiled with awesome foosball video

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Major League Soccer, wow, this is terrific #content.

MLS released its Best XI on Monday with a dynamite video of the players passing the ball from Zack Steffen in goal to Josef Martinez up top… via a virtual foosball table.

[ VIDEO: An unprecedented goal ]

The XI is set in a 3-4-3, with the New York Red Bulls, DC United, and Atlanta United leading the way with a pair of players each.

My predictions? Well, I only got six correct. Whoops. The only absence that really surprises me is Graham Zusi, and Sporting KC not having representation at all. I guess that explains why SKC manager Peter Vermes is going to be announced as the next USMNT– Wait, what’s that? Oh. I’ll stop talking.

2018 MLS Best XI

Goalkeeper: Zack Steffen (Columbus)

Defenders: Kemar Lawrence (RBNY), Aaron Long (RBNY), Chad Marshall (Seattle)

Midfielders: Miguel Almiron (Atlanta), Luciano Acosta (DC), Ignacio Piatti (Montreal), Carlos Vela (LAFC)

Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy), Josef Martinez (Atlanta), Wayne Rooney (DC)

Columbus beats DC in MLS Cup Playoffs thriller

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Penalty prodigy Zack Steffen stopped two penalty kicks to help lead Columbus past DC United at Audi Field on Thursday in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

The sides were level 1-1 after 90 minutes, and 2-2 through 120. Columbus scored thrice to DC’s two goals in PKs.

Steffen stopped Wayne Rooney‘s opening attempt of penalty kicks, but Bill Hamid stymied Gyasi Zardes’ third round bid.

Steffen then stopped Luciano Acosta, but the ball bobbled on Patrick Mullins’ chance to win it for the Crew.

So it came down to DeLeon to tie it, and he sent it way over the bar.

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Federico Higuain bagged a brace for Columbus, while Nick DeLeon and Frederic Brillant scored for the Black and Red.

Columbus/DC moves on to face the New York Red Bulls in the conference semifinals, a rematch of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals.

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DC hit the scoreboard first thanks to a rare error from Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

The USMNT No. 1 backstop couldn’t hold onto a rising cross, which spilled out of his hands for Brillant to tap into the goal.

DC’s lead didn’t last long, thanks to 34-year-old Higuain (You thought he was older, didn’t you?)

Like Brillant, the Argentine was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of some rough play from the opposition.

Columbus had a few very good chances to retake the lead.

Justin Meram hit a volley over the goal, and Bill Hamid thwarted Pedro Santos’ ambitious distance effort with a flying save in the 85th.

Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta then combined atop the 18, but Steffen made a fine save of his own to force extra time.

It didn’t take long for the visitors to get their first lead of the night, with Higuain heading a pinpoint cross from Afful inside the far post.

Yet that wasn’t it!

A foul far from goal saw Rooney presiding over a deep free kick. He sent it to the back post, it was headed to the top of the 18 by Gyasi Zardes, and De Leon punched it through traffic and inside the near post with a dynamic shot.

MLS MVP down to five finalists

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Major League Soccer released its five finalists for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP Award, headlined by a pair of former Manchester United teammates.

LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and DC United attacker Wayne Rooney are up for the award, along with LAFC’s Carlos Vela and Atlanta United teammates Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez.

Ibrahimovic might be considered the favorite had LA not failed to make the playoffs, while Atlanta may be hampered by having two players up for the honor. Vela has been outstanding on expansion LAFC despite inconsistency in his supporting cast.

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Rooney would win MVP despite playing in less than 54 percent of the season’s minutes.

Ibrahimovic, Vela, and Almiron are ranked 1-2-3 in performance scored by advanced stats site WhoScored. Rooney is 10th, and Martinez 11th.

Coincidentally, that’s close to how the voting should finish (although Rooney has been a revelation, Martinez broke the goal record so let’s at least flip those two).

This is one of those times that the MLS Most Valuable Player being named after Landon Donovan may not be ideal.

Especially if Zlatan wins the award. Imagine the speech: “Today, this is award is now the Zlatan Ibrahimovic Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player Award, sponsored by Zlatan.

Rooney: MLS quality ‘higher than maybe I thought’

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DC United forward Wayne Rooney stopped short of calling Major League Soccer a terrific product, but the ex-Manchester United and Everton man says it has certainly defied his expectations.

[ MLS: First round playoff preview ]

Rooney expected something like the lower leagues of England it seems — hard tackles, lots of long balls — but he’s seen better soccer than expected in his first few months with the Black-and-Red.

His thoughts are laid out in a first person post on the BBC, where he also discussed Manchester United, Jose Mourinho, Everton, and getting used to food in the United States.

I knew it was a tough league, a physical league, but I think the ability of the teams in the league and ability of individual players is a lot higher than maybe I thought when I first came. … Some of the football that gets played is good and it is a competitive league.

Rooney’s DC is the East’s No. 4 seed and has a home date with Columbus in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

MLS Playoff Preview: Which home side is safest?

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Thirty-four match seasons have led to Wednesday and Thursday’s Major League Soccer playoff games, which will see four teams go one-and-done into the offseason.

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The league’s parity means fine margins separate seeds, but single elimination in a league driven by home field advantage usually provides a significant edge to hosts.

Where does each match rate in terms of chances for an upset?

Look out: Philadelphia at NYCFC — Let’s start with two sides who met in the same venue just a few days ago. That’s where the playoffs begin, with Philadelphia visiting NYCFC on the postage-stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium.

NYCFC beat Philly 3-1 on Decision Day to seal a home match for the first round, and Columbus’ win over Minnesota sent Philly into sixth. The Union beat New York City at home in the summer, and are one of the better away teams in MLS. Sunday’s loss was their first road loss in five outings.

Doesn’t feel in the cards: Columbus at DC United — The Crew limped into the playoffs and have been pretty poor away from MAPFRE Stadium, not winning since a quality 3-2 defeat at Red Bulls in late July. But Wayne Rooney and DC have not lost since the calendar turned to September, and are 13-2-2 at home this season.

Difficult to account for the unknown: Real Salt Lake at LAFCBob Bradley‘s got plenty of experience, and his players aren’t newbies either, but how will LAFC’s first ever playoff match go? That’s about the only thing keeping us from putting this in the win column for a black and gold side which lost just once, with seven draws, in 17 home matches this season. LA also beat RSL home and away this season. Mike Petke is a savvy manager, so Real Salt Lake has a puncher’s chance despite taking just 12 of 51 away points this season.

Almost a toss up: Portland Timbers at FC Dallas — Once hopeful for the top seed out West, Oscar Pareja’s FCD heads into the postseason with losses in three-straight. The two sides drew home and away this season, and it would not be a surprise to see Portland win. In fact, the venue is the only thing tilting this toward Texas.

Wednesday
New York City FC (3) vs. Philadelphia Union (6) — 7 p.m. ET
FC Dallas (4) vs. Portland Timbers (5) — 9:30 p.m. ET

Thursday
DC United (4) vs. Columbus Crew (5) — 8 p.m. ET
LAFC (3) vs. Real Salt Lake (6) — 10:30 p.m. ET